Editorial: Campus activism can succeed, but must tango with student workloads

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In the dusty yearbook archives of the University Media Board office, photos featured 1970s protesters thrusting picket signs into the air. This was a common occurrence in Case Western Reserve University’s history, but not anymore.

However on Thursday, Nov. 10, the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative (UDC) came close to that image. The organization brought students of all identities together through Facebook posts; students swarmed hours later at the wooden staircase in TVUC to support those at University of Missouri (Mizzou) and Yale University. This wasn’t anywhere near the scope of what happened at Mizzou, but for a new organization to accomplish this was a resounding success.

The Editorial Board commends the students who chose to attend. However, we wonder if this turnout could be produced by activist organizations on campus without help from the outside. We’re not optimistic. The Editorial Board believes that CWRU students do not participate in enough community activism, let alone respond to campus concerns enough. This is especially seen when we compare ourselves to leading colleges at the forefront of current issues.

Sure, efforts are made, but they only exist in small pockets. They never really engross the entire campus community.

This recurring theme of apathy from students is due to academic workload taking precedence; students aren’t able to engage if they are planning to be in the library past midnight. The reality is that building student and group interest in an issue would take a large amount of effort, if it is at all possible in the current campus climate.

UDC provides some key cases to understand this obstacle, including their founding. In fall of 2014, race issues on campus came to light due to a student response to a #webelonghere protest. It wasn’t the protest, but instead it was how students anonymously belittled the protesters which led President Barbara R. Snyder to respond. It took a dire situation for campus leaders to have confidence in students to vote and form the UDC.

UDC was one of a few visible successes in response to campus inequality issues. An additional example is Diversity 360, a training campus groups can request via the Office of Multicultural Affairs. The program was created by the Office for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Resources and the Division of Student Affairs and all first-years went through it early this semester.

UDC believes that this program’s purpose, in part, is to help raise awareness and battle a campus issue UDC has identified: microaggression. (This semester saw a professor tell a female group of students to ask for help in an engineering class, because the professor knew they were already at a “disadvantage.”) Actions like these can be honest mistakes, but can be reduced by ensuring that everyone gets Diversity 360 training.

This program has the potential to be successful because it is doesn’t simply scream into the void of the student body. Rather, it focuses on groups that already exist at CWRU such as student organizations, offices, departments and even the entire staff of colleges.

It is imperative that activist students on campus realize the benefits of this group-fixated strategy. Just like any campaign, building support by appealing to groups step-by-step is the way to make a difference at CWRU. Unfortunately, the student body as a whole does not react to attempts to engage them.

As noted with Diversity 360, an important group to work with is the university administration. According to the UDC, the administration at CWRU has gone out of its way to hear students that see problems on campus. Instead of a barrier, the UDC sees the administration as the first contact when a problem is identified.

In the editorial last week, we discussed how university administrators made an effort to engage students in a potential change to a need-aware and Coalition Application system. The Editorial Board believes that the administration is one group that is approachable and that can help activists on campus.

UDC is the umbrella of student organizations that have existed for years. It was built on these values and can take advantage of their already established outreach and structure. We won’t see what happened in Mizzou happening at CWRU, but by looking at groups already in place and then building off them, we know activism can make a difference in our community.